Open the Window and Let Jay’s Light in

A tribute to Jay Cross — one of our greatest learning luminaries whose relentless quest for insights and tireless willingness to share them was fueled by his authentic passion to make learning better for everyone.

As I write this column, I am sitting on flight SQ217, 35,000 feet over the deep blue sea, 2,000 miles from Melbourne, and overcome with a profound sense of sadness and loss. Minutes before I boarded the plane, I received word that Jay Cross had passed away.

For the last four hours, I have been reminiscing and reflecting on how much Jay helped me truly comprehend learning. For almost two decades, I have been the incredibly fortunate beneficiary of Jay’s keen intellect, his insatiable curiosity, and his unquenchable joie de vivre.

Jay was a colleague, a friend, a mentor, and a guide all wrapped up into a wonderfully collaborative and fun-loving human being. Jay’s insights into how people learn have had a profoundly positive impact on my own professional practice. His mastery of both word and wit allowed him to distill his razor-sharp insights into memorable nuggets such as: “Schooling has confused us into thinking that learning is equivalent to pouring knowledge into people’s heads….It’s more practical to think of learning as optimizing our networks.”

In early March of last year, Jay wrote to me, sharing his latest project: “Millions of knowledge workers are being told to take responsibility for their own learning. I ’d like to turn them on to some of the things we know to enable them to bootstrap and prosper. I want to distill the secret sauce of instructional design into an elixir for people with scant time to imbibe. For me, it is a chance to condense and share what others have helped me learn over the last 40 years. This is a labor of love. It’s payback. Can you help me?”

This is classic Jay. He was the most open, sharing, and collaborative human being I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Whether it was writing an article, running a workshop, or engaging in client work, working with Jay was a flurry of emergent activity that always generated new and unanticipated insights into how people learn.

Jay always sought to push the envelope by taking both thinking and action to the next level. He tirelessly sought to achieve that ever-elusive state of flow in his work, and it was a blast to be there when he achieved it. His relentless quest for insights and tireless willingness to share them was fueled by his authentic passion to make learning better for everyone. Jay Cross truly was a man on a mission.

Two weeks before I wrote this column, Jay sent me the URL for his new book, “Real Learning” (, along with a mind-map to help me “Grok” it more quickly. For those of you who are not aware of Jay’s work, I urge you to imbibe his latest elixir. If my own experience is any indicator, I can guarantee it will make you a better Learning professional and inform your own practice in ways that make a lasting difference.

In what I now know to be Jay’s second-to-last note to me, he wrote: “As I turn 70, I ’ve become more astute at selecting projects: If it’s not fun, I won’t do it. I ’ve missed you and I would like to reconnect. I crave the flow experience. Let’s find something fun to do.”

I wrote back, saying, “Let’s chat next week.”

Jay’s response was, “My windows are always open for you, Amigo.. .next week is embarrassingly, delightfully open.”

Godspeed, Jay Cross. My windows will always be open for you, Amigo. I know the light of your insight will continue to shine brightly for all of us who had the privilege of knowing you as we strive to help others see learning as you did.

Tony O’Driscoll is regional managing director of Duke CE in Singapore, where he focuses on identifying and implementing next-generation learning strategies and approaches that accelerate the development of Leadership Sense- Abilities in this rapidly growing part of the world.