How Do I Encourage Learner Retention? STORIES!!!

3 Retention-Specific Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling provides powerful and unique ways for learners to encode and recall information.  There are three main reasons why our brains find stories so sticky (see Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point):

  • Stories follow a universal framework.  That means less work for your brain. When you brain works less on organization, it frees up processing power to capture new information as it pours in. Regardless of where you are from in the world, every story has common elements that we expect to hear.  There is always a beginning, middle, and end.  Additionally, there’s a setup, an introduction of the players, and an environment they operate within.  Finally, there’s a point (or moral) to the story, which is usually pretty recognizable.  All these are natural mental storage components of storytelling.
  • Stories are sequential. When the brain starts to hear a story, it shifts from using semantic or declarative memory (which favors a rote/”drill & kill” pedagogy to remember isolated facts) to a learner’s episodic memory, which naturally and chronologically stores your own lived experiences and others’ stories.  For example, if I were to tell you 7 random tips about golf, you’d need to expend mental energy trying to organize those facts somehow, possibly grouping like items or using some other strategy.  (Much of your cognitive capacity would be wasted on developing infrastructure.) But if I tell you the story of a particularly gripping golf hole, composed of 7 significant events, then the sequence of events provides a lot of the mental organization for you.  Additionally, there’s an internal logic to events in stories (e.g., sinking a, 18-foot putt for birdie can’t happen before teeing off with an exceptional wind at my back.)  In fewer words, more order = easier mental encoding.
  • Stories have discrete characters.  Human brains love details about people, their personalities, and their character traits.  It’s especially easy to do this if we know the people in the story.  That way, we have all that background information already scattered around our brains to draw upon, a) making it easier to remember, and b) queuing up expectations about how they will behave. But like how every good joke needs a twist, a memorable story’s character confounds your expectations.

3 Universal Keys to Retention

  • Is it unusual?  Which is easier to remember? A picture of a generic horse, or a rainbow-colored one with a jetpack strapped to its back?
  • Is it important to you?  It’s easy to remember the daily weather report better when you have scheduled a round of golf for later that day.
  • Is it a familiar format?  If you typically use feet to measure distance, you’re less likely to remember someone’s height if they give it to you in meters.

While this list of knowledge-retention principles is not exhaustive, if you had to remember only three for use in future presentations or trainings, these are my favs.

Putting the Principles into Practice

Allow me illustrate these six, retention principles in a story.  Recently, I shared a personal dilemma with a close friend of mine named Amy.  She responded by telling me the “Bus Story,” a cautionary tale about the importance of following divine inspiration while she was on her LDS mission in Germany.  Here it is:


Out of breath, Amy and her super-tall mission companion nearly missed their bus home after a long day of unfruitful proselytizing.  They were both feeling anxious because mission rules stated that all missionaries must be home by 9:30pm, and it was already 9:20pm. As they took their seats they were astounded to recognize a former investigator, whom they had tragically lost track of weeks earlier, standing nearby doing a crossword puzzle.  Immediately, Amy felt the distinct impression to stay on the bus and speak to the man, regardless of their curfew.  Amy glanced nervously at her watch…

Although incomplete, Amy’s story is already memorable for me because it contains the universal keys to retention explained above:

  • Unusual — This is a story from a special time in her life, while living abroad.
  • Important — Amy’s story was in response to a personal dilemma I had shared.
  • Familiar — I am all-too-familiar with the restrictiveness of mission rules, (and coincidentally the elation of locating a lost investigator.)

Additionally, Amy’s story contains all three of our traditional storytelling elements:

  • A universal framework — A beginning, middle, and (we’re still waiting for the end/moral.) The setup was in telling about the long day of sharing the gospel. The players are Amy, her big companion, and the long-lost investigator doing a crossword. The environment was on a German bus.
  • Sequential — Amy shared the gospel during the day, she caught a late bus home, then she saw an old investigator once on the bus.
  • Discrete characters — My brain has already developed a complex schema of who Amy is and how she typically behaves. Additionally, it also helped me see her in the story because I could see her right in front of me. Additional details about each character (super-tall, and cross-word puzzler) made it easy for me to visualize each player.

So far, this illustration has worked out perfectly! However, the true conclusion to Amy’s story is missing one element that could bolster its memorability—a twist.  Amy and her companion predictably decided to make an exception to mission regulations by staying on the bus, and reconnecting with the man for a full hour before exchanging new contact information and setting up a followup appointment.  However, to make the story even more memorable for me, the facts could be changed to confound the listener’s expectations regarding typical missionary behavior of always acting upon spiritual promptings.  How much more compelling would the story have been if Amy had said that she ignored the prompting, and the missed opportunity still haunts her to this day!  That would have really driven home her point—never disregard a divine prompting.


What are the three universal keys to retention?

  • Rainbow-colored horses are u_u_ua_.
  • Knowing the weather forecast before paying for a round of golf is i_p_ _t_ _t.
  • Using feet to measure distance is _a_i_ia_ (to U.S. Americans).

What are the three retention benefits of storytelling?

  • Stories use a universal _r_m_w_rk.
  • Stories are naturally s_q_ _nt_ _l.
  • Stories have discrete _ha_a_ _e_s.

All six of these principles are addressed in Julie Dirksen’s amazingly-practical book, Design for How People Learn.

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10 Ways to Quicken (Kwik’en) Your Brain

  1. Eat brain fuel [00:32:00].  You are what you eat.  Literally, what you eat becomes you. We know the foods that are good for your brain are things like avocados, blueberries, broccoli, coconut oil, salmon.  You have green, leafy vegetables.
  2. Kill ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) [00:32:30].  Dr. Daniel Amen, the brain doctor, calls bad self-talk ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). #killtheANTs.  “Your mind is like a supercomputer, and your self-talk is the program it will run…You’re mind is always eves dropping on your self-talk.” ~Unknown
  3. Exercise.  Exercise is good for your brain.  Essentially, anything good for your heart is going to be good for your head because it increases blood flow, and nutrients, and oxygen to your brain.  Regular exercise can fix a broken brain.
  4. Play with nutrition supplements.  Your brain requires a range of nutrients to perform at it’s best.  All of these may not come naturally, even in a healthy diet—especially when you’re moving fast and thinking hard. Perhaps you are deficient and need an omega-3 supplement.  Maybe you’re low in B vitamins.
  5. Surround yourself with positive peers. [00:33:00].  Who you spend time with is who you become. Are you around people who are sapping your energy? #EnergyVampires. Rather, choose to be around a positive peer group, people who teach you things, who challenge you to grow, who take you to the next level.
  6. Be in a clean space [00:34:00].  Your external world is a reflection of your internal world.  You know this anecdotally because of how you feel in a clean home, or at your clean workstation.  How do you feel when you organize your laptop or your desktop?  Clear, focused, and organized, right?  These are all examples of feeling clean from the inside-out.  That clarity goes from the outside-in as well, like clean water and clean air.  Get natural sunlight (vitamin D).  Avoid locations with toxins, pollutants, mold, and all the things that can affect your nervous system and lead to a less-effective (“broken”) brain.
  7. Sleep well [00:34:00].  Sleep the time your brain consolidates short-term and long-term memory. People who suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep issues, fail to efficiently encode what they learned between sleep events. Additionally, significant non-memory-related problems also arise when proper sleep is disrupted. Think about your own life: What happens to decision making the next day? What happens to our ability to make the decisions to solve problems? How focused do you feel on a bad night’s sleep? How much energy do you have? How much brain fog do you have? Fix and hack your sleep. There are so many things you could do. Anything from blackout curtains, to grounding devices, to getting rid of the blue light, not touching your phone at night, and so on.
  8. Protect your brain.  Jim grew up with learning challenges due to many traumatic head traumas resulting in brain injuries.  There was an easy prevention for that—wear a helmet.  Avoid extreme sports.  Concussions cause lasting damage.  While your brain is very resilient, it’s also very fragile.
  9. Always be connecting (ABC).  Learning = creating new connections between something new and something you already know.  New learning creates neurogenesis, neuroplasticity. The more you learn, the longer you’re going to live, the more fulfilling it’s going to be.  Challenge your brain—that’s how you create new neural connections.
  10. Manage your stress.  The 10th key to maximizing brain efficiency is managing your stress (environmental, emotional, physical, relationship, work, etc.).  Most people don’t realize all the anxiety, the depression, the challenges they have from this environment, because it’s there all the time.


  1. Eat brain fuel.
  2. Kill ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).
  3. Exercise.
  4. Play with nutrition supplements.
  5. Surround yourself with positive peers.
  6. Be in a clean space.
  7. Sleep well.
  8. Protect your brain.
  9. ABC (Always be connecting to new ideas)
  10. Manage your stress.

Jim Kwik is a memory expert.

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3 Reasons To Stop Using Buzzwords

Buzzwords (wikipedia) are trite, pithy words and phrases that people sometimes borrow to make their own ideas seem more convincing. While some have found success using these terms in appropriate contexts, I see three problems with their overuse:


1) They can make you sound ignorant.

Too often, people use a popular word or phrase without fully understanding its meaning. Some people have such strong emotions on a topic that they venture to use a buzzword they do not completely understand in order to make their argument seem more convincing. In a fervor to make their point, some buzzword misusers actually convince themselves that they do, in fact, have mastery over the word or phrase. (E.g., DYNAMIC SOLUTIONS, HOLISTIC APPROACH, AGILE BEST PRACTICES, etc.)


Mildly Retarded Consultant

Dilbert by Scott Adams, Oct 8th, 2006, URL


2) You can come off as either lazy or aloof.

Before they became”buzzwords,” these specific words and phrases communicated tremendous meaning when explained in context, or used to summarize an in-depth discussion. However, buzzwords are now often used in place of actual explanations. Instead of being used to effectively communicate ideas, buzzwords have become substitutes for when the user is under-prepared. E.g., [I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, so] I’ll SPIN/MOCK UP something before our next meeting.” These buzzwords are especially annoying when used to describe words abstract in meaning, and difficult to act upon. (E.g., any discussion about CULTURE or SYNERGY or BREAKING DOWN SILOS or PUTTING OUT FIRES, when the speaker doesn’t actually understand what it is or how to affect it.)

It is worth noting that lazy use of buzzwords can have a disastrous side-effect on relationships; it can demonstrate that the user doesn’t care enough about his or her audience to meaningfully express him/herself. At times, buzzwords are literally used as euphemisms for “I don’t care about this conversation.” E.g., “Let’s KICK THIS CONVERSATION DOWN THE ROAD (or PUT A PIN IN IT).”


3) You appear self-important.

Many buzzwords are first read in business best-sellers. (E.g., Steven Covey’s 6th Habit popularized the buzzword SYNERGY, or Clayton Christensen’s DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION.) Once a word or phrase is discovered to be useful its user, it is quickly adopted by the masses. Usefulness could mean anything from ending conversations more efficiently to make the user’s time seem more precious, or making the user seem well-read/trendy in the eyes of his or her peers, which might lead to greater renown and promotions. Additionally, there are no significant, negative consequences for the misuse of buzzwords due to the Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon. Thus, buzzwords are experimented with whenever possible—ofttimes inappropriately. When buzzwords are used too often or inappropriately it becomes apparent that the user cares more about self-aggrandizement (elevating his or her own status), than about meaningful communication.




The probability of misusing (including overuse of) buzzwords is high. And the resulting negative consequences far outweigh the potential benefits. Buzzwords are often used as a substitute for meaningful conversation, out of pure laziness, and as a selfish expression of praise seeking. It is not only annoying when people are insincere in their communication in these ways, but it also devastates effective teamwork and productivity. Don’t take the easy way out. If at all possible, replace buzzwords with a more genuine and meaningful forms of communication. You’ll definitely increase PERSONAL ROI.


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Infographic: 5 Fixes for IDs

five fixes for instructional designers infographic

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When Needs Analysis Fails: Five Simple Fixes for Instructional Designers



Before I share with you my five tips for success, there is some voluntary pre-reading. Hidden below, I’ve authored a cringe-worthy needs analysis interaction between you (the instructional designer) and a project manager (PM). The text is hidden because it may trigger PTSD for some IDs. Consider yourself warned. Toggle the arrow above to begin.


The Setting

Imagine you are an instructional designer (ID) preparing to sit down to an initial needs analysis meeting with a project manager from a department within your own company. Although you’ve worked around one another for nine months, you’ve never directly worked on a project together.Good luck.

Background Info

The PM’s overall goal: Departmental return on investment (ROI). Whatever that means.

The PM’s objective for this encounter: Get you to build a website with as many features as possible for the lowest cost. (And maybe meet the department’s objective for wanting the website. But we won’t know because evaluation isn’t a department priority.)

Your overall/idealistic goal (as an instructional designer, ID): Change people’s lives. Empower, strengthen, and meet the needs of learners. Make them better, smarter, and more effective at what they do, ultimately adding value to the company.

Your objective for this interaction: Be a “business partner” by utilizing your expertise to understand and meet the client’s goals, and then offer appropriate solutions (training or otherwise) at various price points by first identifying the client’s objectives, audience, budget, and schedule.

The Novela Begins…

PM: *Silently walks into the reserved conference room, praying through clenched but grinning teeth that this interaction will go as smoothly for him as possible.* “Hi. We want you to build us a website to market our new product, please.”

ID: *You feign excitement while repressing instant frustration; clients always seem to ask for specific deliverables (the horse) before they know what they really want their products to do (the cart).* “A website! Sounds exciting! I’ve built some eye-popping websites for customers in the past in order to—”

PM: *Interrupting* “Yes! That exactly what we want! Just like that other one you did!” *Things are going better than expected. Now to settle on the cost…*

ID: *This is going to take longer than expected. I need to verify that a website is the right tool for the job.* “Great! So tell me a little bit more. After people see your website, what do you want to have happen? What’s the ideal outcome?”

PM: “We want them all to convert from using the old department tool to this new tool we just built for them.”

ID: “Okay!” *Client request: a systemic change in attitude/value/belief, moving users to adoption of new tool. Potential Solutions: behavior modeling, introduce cognitive dissonance, role playing/simulation, storytelling, celebrity/expert endorsement, appealing to intellect, subtle emotional manipulation techniques, etc.  Additional instruction likely.* “Tell me more about your audience. Who’s going to be using your site? Will the same people who adopt your tool be the ones using it?”

PM: “Yes. But the product is for office use only.” *Why are we still having this conversation?*

ID: *I’m not convinced a website is the best solution for changing the behavioral component of affect.* “I can see there’s a lot of departmental excitement about a website; it’s obviously some serious thought has gone into this. But the way I’m understanding so far, a website wouldn’t be my recommendation. So help me understand. How did you come to decide that a website will help convince your people to switch products?”

PM: *I’m not supposed to be the one selling you. You’re supposed to be selling me! Or at least be a “yes-man.”* “My higher ups and I love the of blasting the employees with an in-your-face message they can’t ignore. Something like, ‘we have an awesome new product! Click this link to download and check it out!’ Basically, this can’t be a training. Our people hate trainings. Better to let them discover it on their own. That’s what’s getting traction right now.”

ID: *How can I communicate my true misgivings about the direction of this project without coming off as insensitive to the client’s feelings.* “I hear what you’re saying! You want an accessible, flashy announcement that links employees to the product, right?”

PM: “You got it! But we also want the website to have testimonials, and training pages, and leader boards too; just like your other website. And since it’s still Q1, budget is unfortunately an issue. Everything is already earmarked.” *I’m just going to say it.* “We need you to deliver as much of that as possible for less than $8,000.”

ID: *[Not thinking about cost at all.] This is overkill! Creating a giant website to solve this problem is like cooking a stew with prime steak meat. We’ll need to get on the same page in order for me to be an effective partner here. More analysis is needed. To deliver a solution that works, I’ll need to find out more about what his department really wants. Perhaps I can build rapport (a first step to winning the client’s trust) by bringing up reduced project costs.* “I’m excited to be partnering with you on this exciting project. And our training group wants nothing more that to deliver the best solution that fits in your budget. Now, I’ll need gather more data before I can offer specific details, but what if I told you I could offer you the same outcome you want for a mere fraction of the cost of a website?”

PM: “Saving money is good. I’m listening. But what’s the catch?”

ID: “Just spitballing here, but if all you want product adoption, instead of building a costly website, we could simply host a brownbag lunch ‘show and tell’ where we invite nominated nay-sayers from each team within your department to pre-identify their negative perceptions as consumers. Then at the lunch, we resolve their concerns and offer tailored demonstrations on how switching products adds value for their team. We work until all the issues are resolved. Then we let them convert the rest of their teams.”

PM: *Skeptical/Borderline defensive* “We’ve already done all that during the alpha and beta phases of product development—didn’t work. We then tried mass emailing out a role-out announcement ourselves, but only two people in the whole company downloaded the product outside of our team. People just don’t want to change. What we need is something more visually explosive! That’s why we came to you.”

ID: “I can see you believe this website idea is a silver bullet. And I’m happy to build you a website if that’s how I can best be of service to you right now. I’m just not sure a website is the best way for you to get what you want. For me to better help you, we need more data. It seems to me that you have a definite perspective on how the product was rolled out in the past and are invested in its success. *Your very job might be riding on its successful implementation.* But I haven’t heard the perspectives from other stakeholder from within the department. Do you have any survey, focus group, or interview data from stakeholders, especially end users? That information can help us be sure we’re understanding what you really want—”

PM: *’This guy is an friggn’ idiot.’ Staring into your eyes and repeatedly raising and his lowering hands in a chopping motion* “What I really want, is a website.”

ID: [Rolling over.] “Okay. Absolutely. You’re right. My job isn’t to help you get what you really want. It’s to delight my customers. Now, forgive me for trying one last time, but part of the way we’ve delighted customers in the past is by giving them an excellent return on their investment, which I know is also important to you. Now, speaking on behalf of your department, do you really want to sink tons of money into something that isn’t designed to do the thing you’re paying for it to do?”

PM: *[Forcing back an aneurysm.] ‘Oh! Okay, I see our miscommunication now. You believe you’re actually helping by asking me all these questions, when the truth is you’re just getting under my skin. I already have a green light from my higher-ups on the website idea. I’m just a cog in a wheel. It’s my job to get you to agree to the budget we allocated for this project. Ultimately, I can’t hear what you’re saying because I haven’t directly worked with you before, which means I don’t trust you to know what I want, or to save me money. If you give me the run around one more time, we’re contracting someone outside the company to come in and make it happen.’* “…So can you build a website for us?”

ID: *I hate my life.* “Sure.”


Five Fixes For Instructional Designers

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895_failA tiny piece of me died while composing that conversation; what a train wreck! Obviously, it was a bit exaggerated. PMs aren’t actually the small-minded demons I made them out to be. (But it can sometimes be perceived that way by IDs. Perhaps later I’ll post the same encounter from a PM’s perspective!)

While the blame for this miserable needs analysis meeting doesn’t rest solely on the ID’s shoulders, the following five techniques are designed to help the ID improve that conversation. After sharing my observations, I’d love to hear any additional feedback, observations, and personal experiences you’d care to share in the comment section.

1) Focus on building trust.

The first two things you need to know are:

  1. The field of corporate instructional design is a service industry.
  2. The road to trust is a long (and submissive) one.

If you want a customer’s  business—contrary to rational thought—a successful ID must espouse the old marketing slogan, “the customer is always right.” The following corollary is also true, “An ID is only be “right” when the paying customer thinks it so.” The assumption here is that you want the customer’s business. Some customers are terrible for business, in which case you should politely drop them as clients. However, if you want a particular client’s business, you’re going to have to occasionally leave your expertise at the door and play by their rules. Bottomline: Your expertise will only be valued once trust has been established.

Before trust can be earned, IDs ought to think of themselves as indentured servants to their clients or project managers. Creative freedom is a luxury that is earned, not assumed. Sound like a dreary life? That depends on your perspective. Happy IDs initially derive job satisfaction the same way golf caddies do when working with professional golfers. The same goes for the relationship between medieval squires and their knights. These professions find happiness by making their superiors look good, even when they boldly (and often ignorantly) dismiss the expert counsel given them. This metaphor of sovereign fealty is particularly important for IDs who are working with project managers for the first time. This includes burgeoning ID contractors, as well as experienced, in-house IDs who are new to a company.

Novice IDs, leave your grad school design theories and preconceived notions of establishing a common project goal at the door. Despite it being a best practice, most project managers (those whose job it is to relay messages from their higher ups) do not want your “better way of doing things” bungling their sacred scope, schedule, and/or budget. If you want your project ideas to eventually be heard, having the trust of the sponsoring client means everything. Trust is earned as you consistently deliver projects on scope, on time, and on budget. Bonus points for exceeding expectations in any of those categories. See my previous post illustrating how to build trust with your PM.

Bottomline: The more trust you earn, the more creative control the PM/ClientPOC will relinquish for future projects. Only after customers are convinced that you can make them look good are they willing to be open to your crazy, new ideas from the start of a project.

2) Develop a culture of service within your group.


Like these poor customer service reps, IDs are too often perceived by project managers as potential obstacles or even enemies rather than adoring vassals. It’s your job to change their mind. To prevent the perpetuation of this stigma, IDs ought to establish a culture of service within their team or organization. Here are a few ways an organization can be seen as service-minded by their clients.

  • Publish a mission statement for customers to see with service as a core value. Externally promote your service-oriented brand before engagement on each project. Email your project manager a link to your department’s values along with a personal note of support.
  • Internally incentivize excellent service. Possibly establish a review survey that results in rewards if you measure up. Offer social praise in office memos or plaques. Etc.
  • Invest in team building. Take the opportunity to define your roles. Potential miscommunications can be averted by having team members articulating their own role and the roles of all others on the team. This way you can work it out before toes get stepped on.
  • Rethink your organization’s name. Perhaps you could colloquially call yourself a “service shop” instead of a “department.” A shop is where people take orders to quickly solve others’ problems. A department is a bureaucratic machine designed to resist your interests.

3) Use cooperative language.


Even the most subtle of communications can promote partnership or divisiveness.

  • In any meetings, try to adjust your seating so that you are angled essentially anywhere other than directly opposite your business”partner”.
  • Use 3rd-person pronouns to promote partnership. First and second-person pronouns, like”me” and “you”, can perpetuate a competitive mentality. Use third-person pronouns (“we”) to invoke feelings of cooperation and unity. Rarely, in the scenario above, do the ID or client refer to their partnership as “we”.
  • Avoid using “war” vocabulary in all communications, especially with/about your point of contact. (E.g., “battle, fight, lose, attack, take flak, defend, capture, combat, lose ground, etc.) In all your communications, use positive, synergistic language that engenders the idea of cooperation and service.

4) Esse quam videri.


While the ID in the “fictional” story above appeared to demonstrate respect for the customer’s needs, he/she unfortunately did it in word alone. The ID would think one thing, then say something completely different. Duplicity is toxic to relationships.  Despite your sense of justice and rationale screaming one thing, I promise you’ll be happier if you:

  • Stop mentally belittling those with whom you work.
  • Relax your expectations of others and focus on what you can control.
  • Work at having integrity in your dealings with others. Mean what you say.
  • If you are about to say something mean or untrue, hold your tongue. Instead, identify and call out the best in everyone. Eventually, your thought processes will adapt and finding good in others will become a habit.
  • Watch out for the tell-tale signs of duplicitousness in yourself:
    • If you catch yourself thinking one thing and saying another.
    • If you speak poorly about clients behind their backs.
    • If you regularly tell yourself that you hate what you do.
    • If you feel trapped—like there’s no one you can talk to about your work problems.

If you’ve observed any of these cancers in yourself, you’ve got to change—either yourself or your environment (i.e., get a new job). Now, I’m not a quitter. But I do advocate it in some circumstances.Some people aren’t at a place in life where they can be performance ponies for their companies. Yes, I just called employees who haven’t yet earned trust broken show horses. Granted, some stallions were dealt a poor hand. Some simply don’t have the skills (yet) to cope in a standard workforce environment. And some horses were born to be wild. I’ve seen enough Millennials struggle in business (and tragic horse films like Buck, and Man from Snowy River) to know—if you can’t be controlled, you get put down. So do yourself a favor, shape up or ship out. If you can’t adapt, don’t stay in a joyless job. Start making moves now to get yourself out of that toxic environment into a place where you can choose to be happy.

5) Be Patient.

Many workers who hop from job-to-job, who search for a place where they “make a difference,” never find it. In many cases, the problem is sadly with them. In many instances, these good folks fail to realize that it takes more that 8 months with a company to start to feel like you are making an impact. Here are some tips that helped me cross that dessert:

  • I sought out a mentor. Others have been where you are and have gotten through it. Their perspective can be like life-sustaining water in a dessert. But unlike the dessert, there are potential mentors everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to turn to a non-human coping mechanism of choice (e.g., video games, social media, media binging, drugs or alcohol, pornography, anything that offers you that both numbing and elating dopamine rush). Connecting with a human helped me non-destructively cope with my frustrations. (FYI, mentoring/coaching never decreased the actual problem. But, with his help, I was able to view it in it’s proper perspective and push forward with hope in a better future.)
  • I aligned my efforts with my organization’s strategy. You may feel like you’re not helping because you’re not. You may be spending most of your time at work doing things you think are important. But if you really want to be noticed and “make a difference,” you’ll need to strategically shift your time and energy to doing things that align with the mission of your org. (It’s employees who are able to see how they can best contribute to the organization’s overall strategy on a daily basis that are typically first in line for promotions.)
  • I learned/improved a skill set. Maybe you don’t have the chops to contribute yet. (I know that may cause cognitive dissonance for some Millennials with huge egos bred into them.) I’m sorry. But we can all do our jobs more effectively. Intrinsically motivated workers can find great satisfaction in applying lean sigma six principles to their personal sphere.
  • I learned “it’s not always about me.” We need to connect with others at work. This means doing what it takes to value others. Find out about their lives. Ask how you can help them. I read yesterday on Reddit about a study that claims that two-year-olds find the same value in helping others as they do in helping themselves. Let’s re-discover that.


Instructional design is a terrific field with tremendous potential to help people and organizations. And like any profession, if you want to achieve greatness, you’ve got to pay your dues. (E.g., Lawyers don’t join firms and immediately become partners.) Freedom and autonomy at work come only after you’ve proven yourself to be a reliable asset to those you serve. During that necessary period of servitude, don’t be an academic know-it-all. Don’t miss the mark by valuing what’s “right” above your relationship with the client. Be service minded. Speak well, act well, and you will do well.

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How to Build Trust with Your Project Manager


PM Trudeau brilliantly outmaneuvers Pres. Trump’s unpredictable handshake style. (Feb 13)

Are you an instructional designer? Are you’re getting stepped on by your project manager (PM) at work? Begin the process of receiving the respect you deserve by developing trust with your PM. Below is an example of a (slightly manipulative) process that instructional designers (IDs) with < 10 years in the field can use to build trust with their project managers:

  1. Speak up. Take mental ownership of your part of the business relationship. Don’t blame your project manager for your unhappiness. A new study by VitalSmarts suggests that you’re the one to blame for your co-workers bad behavior (infographic). If your relationship lacks trust, don’t just dismiss it by saying things like, “if she would only…” or “if he wouldn’t always…”. This festering distrust is an obstacle to your personal productivity and happiness. Furthermore, it’s responsibility to deal with it. To resolve the issue once and for all, Kerry Patterson (one of the founders of VitalSmarts) would tell you to speak up honestly, directly and professionally. Consider following his dos and don’ts to help navigate that conversation.
  2. Survive. In highly-effective teams and relationships, people are open to giving and receiving input from other team members. Ego and competition take a backseat to shared vision and synergy. However, this ideal is unlikely to exist at your job. (Apologies for my cynicism, but am I wrong?) If you have already observed distrust among team members, especially with your PM, and haven’t yet had an opportunity to follow step one,  do it asap. In the mean time, lay the groundwork for speaking up by laying low and following a self-preservation strategy. While this suggestion may seem contradictory to the first step, it’s only temporary and can prevent disastrous clashes between you and your PM. By submitting to “the man’s” will you demonstrate your humility and dependability as an employee. You put the PM at ease and prime the pump for your PM to be emotionally prepared to have that crucial conversation. Remember, at the end of the day it’s the PM’s job to make sure team projects run smoothly. The theory of psychological egoism suggests that your PM doesn’t care about you—only that you do your job. Let the PM do his/her job just as they expect you to do yours and you’ll survive the short term.
  3. Under-Promise & Over-Deliver (UPOD). At some point, you’ll be approached by your PM regarding project parameters (scope, schedule, budget). Typically, the PM will consult you on project estimates. Occasionally, you may be afforded the luxury of tagging along with the PM and offer input at a scoping meeting with the client. In these cases, remember to UPOD—especially in either the schedule and budget categories. Don’t mess with the scope at all for the first three projects you work on together. When terms are handed down to the PM by the client, it’s may be the result of having previously blown one or more of those expectations. It could also simply be due to normal external pressures.
  4. Request Feedback. Once you have made the PM/point-of-contact (POC) look good on a number of occasions, ask them for the client’s feedback on past projects if it hasn’t already been offered. (PMs who are effective leaders quickly passed along kudos. Less-effective ones will gobble the glory for themselves, while the efforts of the content creators go unappreciated. It happens. Be ready for that. Then find a professional way to deal with it.) Regardless of your PM’s personality, the feedback past projects should be good as long as you are delivering as expected.
  5. Plant Seeds. At this point, start planting seeds that you might have some scope improvements for future projects that the clients might love even more. Do this by citing how you could have made the changes to previous projects.  Spin it as if you had just thought of the idea and haven’t been stewing about all along. With the PM fantasizing about the accolades he/she (or you all) will receive, you’ve got them primed for the next big step.
  6. Speak up (ver. 2). The next time a suggestion for a project improvement occurs to you, bring it immediately to the PM/clientPOC and get the green light. Remember to emphasize that your suggestion won’t negatively effect the schedule or budget. If they shut you down, bide your time. Never go rogue. Patiently continue to UPOD. If you do manage to convince them, your moment of truth has arrived. Don’t blow it.
  7. Take Small Bites. Now that you have your PM’s ear, combat the temptation to over contribute. This fragile peace you’ve established with the PM requires careful cultivation. Rinse and repeat over a few more projects until you have solidify your PM/client’s trust. I’ve seen this only a few times in my career, but when it happens it’s a beautiful thing. Your PM/POC will come to you and say, “your last project was a smash hit! We want to give you complete creative control on this next project.” (Resist thinking, “well, if you had handed over design control to the person in the company with the degree—me—in the first place, we could have all gotten here sooner!” Rather, simply revel in the moment. It may not come again for a while.)
  8. Synergy. Once the flood gates have opened, that’s when you will be invited to needs analysis meetings and actually listened to when you offer suggestions like, “we need to gather additional data.”

dysfunctiondemotivator_grandeTL;DR — The more trust you earn, the more creative control the PM/clientPOC will relinquish for future projects. Only after customers are convinced that you can make them look good are they willing to be open to your crazy, new ideas from a project’s inception.

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Video Cloning in After Effects

Video Summary: Cloning is all in the planning and post-production. First, you shoot all the “pieces” you need. Then all the pieces are cut using the After Effects pen tool and composite them together using layers. Once the pieces are put together, you make them look pretty and believable by adjusting coloring, and adding camera shake.

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How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?

Answer by Suresh Rathinam:

I was a very bad Procrastinator for a very long time, until I really understood the basics of why I procrastinate.

In order to understand why you procrastinate, first you should have a strong desire to eliminate procrastination in your life and following the methods mentioned below will be helpful.

I. Track down your everyday activity

When I first started writing down the list of activities that I do everyday, it felt like a waste of time. But later while analyzing the one month data I clearly understood why I don't have enough time to do the necessary activities and it narrowed down to the bad habits that i had created over time.

I was spending most of my time in Facebook and was affected by the "Chain-clicking curse" where watching a video from Facebook will lead to YouTube in-turn to Twitter to see the trend and it goes on and on into loads of unnecessary browsing wasting your precious time

II. Understanding why we procrastinate

We procrastinate because of the habits that we create over time. When we work some random thought strikes our mind, it might be as simple as,
where to go for the next vacation?

and I go to online to check details of it.  It doesn't stop there, then to Facebook to see where my friends went and something else catches up my eyes and the clicks goes endlessly.

III. How we create Habits

I have been following this routine every day which let me do overtime to complete my work and had no time for the essential things in life. All of these made sense to me when I read the Power of habit by Charles Duhigg.

Understanding the basic of habit was big help to me. I starts with a cue/Signal in my case it was the random thought and my routine was to search about it and reward that I get is leaving a stressful work for that moment/satisfaction by answering my random thought which sucks my time endlessly leaving only a very short period of time to do the necessary.

Now the trick it to replace the bad routine with a good routine which will lead to greater productivity in life, which could be understood by looking at how runners reward themselves

Here the cue is the Running shoe and it lets you to the routine of running which was created over time, running leads to the reward which is sense of accomplishment on completing a run also satisfying the Endorphin craving that you get by looking at the running shoe

IV. How I cured myself by changing my routine

1. Keeping myself distraction free

a. Turn off internet: Most of my work doesn't need internet so turned off my WiFi whenever i work

b. Note pad: Whenever some random thoughts strike rather than searching it online I started recording them down in a small note and researched about them later

c. Setting Time limits: Started setting a duration to complete my work which helped me to focus more on my work, Even had set time on socializing with my colleagues spending not more than 5 minutes on unnecessary talks

2. Sustaining the habits

a. Tracking your activities: Its quite tough for me to write every activity now and then, so I spent half an hour every day before sleeping to write down the activities of the whole day splitting into hourly activities and do a quick analysis on where to improve next day. It looks something like this:

9:00 – 10:00 : Forecast Meeting
10:00 – 11:00 : Project#1 – Prepared the procedure
b. Prioritizing activities for tomorrow: This summary helps me in prioritizing the activities that i should be concentrating more tomorrow and I write down top 3 things that should be completed tomorrow

c. Monthly and Quarterly Review: then I started analyzing my monthly and quarterly data's to continuously improve my productivity

The methods mentioned above worked perfectly for me and I started finding more time to do the necessary things in life. Hope it will be useful for you as well, Let me know if it was helpful. 🙂

How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?

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Paul Burton’s 12 Tips to Make Email More Effective

Overall Objective

  • Reduce and improve time spent using email.
    • Reduce receiver-centric behaviors — Reduce the number of replies needed so you really do reduce email.
      • Weed out losers before reading:
        1. Delete!
        2. Mark as spam!
        3. Unsubscribe!
        4. Preview everything else.
    • To improve use and reduce volume of email, focus on “sender-centric” behaviors rather than “receiver-centric”.
Example of an Effective Email Communication

Example of an Effective Email Communication

Improve Your Mechanics

Figure out a better how!

  1. Please stop hiding behind email as the universal communication tool.  Ask, “is this the best way to communicate this message?”  It is good for sending static information (vs. discussion), not good for conversations.
  2. Love reply, Loathe Reply all – if all really need to hear your reply – ok, but 95% of the time reply to just those who need to hear.
  3. Avoid the collective “Thank You” strings – Bad habit and insincere.  Be sincere and write a separate email to express genuine thanks.  Better – call or go down the hall.  Avoid thank-you-fests.
  4. Be Jekyll & Hyde – shift from global “inbox” (overwhelming)  to multiple inboxes for each major part of your life to reduce the “Variable intermittent feedback loops” – constant (addictive) checking of email.  Create some separation of function so you can focus on 1) work, 2) family, 3) outside interests without all competing all the tie.   Don’t forward other email addresses to a single one. Check each – use smartphone. Have multiple inboxes for each major role in your life so you can better parse your time – focus on one thing at a  time.  Keeps work separate from family and outside interests. Better for work and for you.
  5. The 10 Second Rule – Change the 2 minute rule from David Allen “Getting Things Done” – i.e.,  if less than 2 min – Just do it now.  Shift to make that the 10-second rule – TIP  – If you have to think, move on.
  6. The Buck Stops Here – “Do I have a follow up system that allows us not to lose something?” If not , find one and use it.

Improve Your Messaging

Take responsibility for completing the communication.  Own the message until it’s actually received.

  1. Mind the Subject line — Make the most of every subject line.  Make it headline.  Use abbreviations (EOM, Reply Needed,  FYI,  NRN (no reply necessary) at the beginning of the Subject, and math symbols to quickly communicate (+, =, -) People read only 1st 2 paragraphs of any email.
    1. Change the subject line when the thread changes.
    2. If forwarding for FYI, point where to look in the message in a lead sentence.
    3. Own communications.
  2. Give Good signature block – add phone, email, website link, social media links, branding, etc. to every signature block.
  3. Follow the rules of the road.
    1. Always be professional.  They can all get forwarded.
    2. Use correct grammar and spelling – they indicate who you are – take the time.
    3. Attend to Pace, Clarity, Completeness – to enhance understandability – Pace – rate at which info is digestible, Clarity  – be concise and cogent, Complete – address all points, leaving nothing unanswered.
    4. No Yelling – avoid ALL CAPS, always.
    5. Brevity is beautiful.
      1. 25 words per sentence limit.
      2. Eliminate intensifiers – “really, very, clearly”.
      3. Consider swapping the word after “of” with the word before “of” –
    6. Read, Pause, Send – steps before sending any email.  Is this correct and professional?
  4. Deliver the goods first – Give the summary first = Use Bursts – give shortest amount of information to get to yes. People don’t read past he 2nd paragraph.
    1. Use an outline or memo style with conclusion, observation, request for action  first
    2. Use lists and bullets.
    3. Use short crisp sentences.
    4. Supporting information follows.
  5. Be Responsailicious –  reference prior email when replying.
    1. Answer all question.
    2. Categorize/Separate subjects with headings.
    3. Add an update to the subject line re your input – “revised”.
    4. If the subject doesn’t fit, start a new thread.
  6. Write a Screenplay  –  distinguish background from dialogue –   Guide people through the messages.  Topics, Start with names for specific tasks. State a directive .
    1. Start with information for all readers, and then follow by calling out people by name
    2. Use directives  to ID action required – include their name and new paragraph or bullet.

Bonus Thoughts

  • Email is forever – don’t forget it.
  • Pause when upset.  Don’t send an angry email.
  • Everyone uses it every day.
  • Activity is reading and receiving emails.
  • Productivity is the tool better through attention to 1) mechanics and 2) messaging .
  • Email is not a “conversation” tool.  When we treat it as one we lose time.

Paul Burton is a practicing attorney in Washington State. He is an expert in the areas of  business communication and time management.  These are some notes my dad took at a one-hour seminar with him.

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Film Production Master Class in 3 Minutes

In Fall 2013, I took a 4-hour, graduate-level class for 16 weeks at BYU in order to learn what this video demonstrates in 3 minutes…

Moral of the story: Don’t go to college if you have the internet.


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